Draft Budget 2017-18 (Timetable)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th October 2016.

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Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

The debate has been fairly consensual in that there is an acceptance that the Government is not in full control of the situation in terms of the UK Government’s autumn statement. However, when I looked at the papers last night and at what the Finance and Constitution Committee and Bruce Crawford were saying, I did think that we would be able to reach consensus today in respect of being able to provide as much information as possible. That is a point that I will come back to.

The OECD principles of budgetary governance state that

“the national parliament has a fundamental role in authorising budget decisions and in holding government to account”,

and that “government” should provide

“for an inclusive, participative and realistic debate on budgetary choices, by ... offering opportunities for the parliament and its committees to engage with the budget process at all key stages of the budget cycle”.

The concern that all parties have raised here today is that we will not be able to do that with this year’s budget. Clearly, we were not able to achieve those principles with last year’s budget, either.

The Scottish Parliament information centre’s budget briefing said that overall, at least, the Scottish process comes out relatively favourably when measured against most OECD criteria. Scotland is in line with best practice when it comes to the time that is allocated for budget scrutiny, to the committee structure that is in place for dealing with budgets, and to the involvement of the Finance and Constitution Committee in ordinary legislation. Scotland is also better placed than many legislatures because it has some capacity for obtaining expert advice and research on financial matters. In general terms, our Parliament would be up there among the best, but given what has happened over the past two years, we are not. Nobody here today has suggested that that is the fault of the Scottish Government. The situation is clearly to do with the autumn statement.

Bruce Crawford talked about a budget process review group, which will examine the situation in the light of what has happened over the past two years. The minister might want to say something more about that. As Kezia Dugdale said, we do not want to find ourselves in the same situation next year. I hope that the minister also picks up Kezia Dugdale’s point about a three-year budget cycle, which has been called for by most of local government and the third sector.

I am a bit lost, however, because Derek Mackay said to the then Finance Committee on 7 September:

“I am willing to produce as much scenario planning information as I can.”—[

Official Report, Finance Committee

, 7 September 2016; c 16.]

What has changed? He has then gone on to tell the committee that he will not publish any such scenario planning in advance of the draft budget. It is a legitimate question. Some people have suggested that his officials told him that it would be too difficult. That information is all that the committee is asking for.

Yesterday, I met a group of local government leaders from across Scotland. Right now, they are looking at their budgets and agonising over where cuts will have to be made. One of them said to me that they have been told by Derek Mackay that things are likely to get much worse in the coming years. Given that we are talking about real people who depend on public services, the situation is not satisfactory.